The Exonerated

The Exonerated

Please join Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and Northwestern University's School of Communication for a dramatic reading of The Exonerated, the award-winning play featuring the stories of six innocent people who were sentenced to death.

The performance will be followed by a talkback with the actors alongside Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) co-director Laura Nirider and CWC death row exoneree Gary Gauger.

Date and Time

  • April 15, 2021
  • 6:30 PM CST

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Program (pdf)


  • Delbert: Harry Lennix (Comm '86)
  • Young Delbert: Nolan Robinson (Comm '21)
  • Sunny: Katrina Lenk (BSM alum)
  • Young Sunny: Riley Nelson (Comm '21)
  • David: E. Patrick Johnson (Dean, School of Communication)
  • Young David: Jay Towns (Comm '22)
  • Robert: Al Heartley (Managing Director, Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts)
  • Young Robert: Ryan Foreman (Comm '20)
  • Gary: Tommy Rapley (lecturer, Department of Theatre)
  • Young Gary: Carson Stewart (Comm '20)
  • Kerry: Carrington Vilmont (BSM '00)
  • Young Kerry: Emmet Smith (Comm '21)
  • Georgia/Female Ensemble: Detra Payne (lecturer, Department of Theatre)
  • Sandra/Female Ensemble: Emiley Kiser (Second-year MFA Acting candidate)
  • Male Ensemble 1: Scott Mikita (Comm '88)
  • Male Ensemble 2: Jim Weitzer (Comm '96)
  • DirectorJordan Donica


Twenty years ago, a powerful play premiered off-Broadway. Called The Exonerated and written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, the play told the intertwined stories of six innocent death row inmates. It ran for 600 performances to extraordinary critical acclaim.

At around the same time, legal organizations including law professors and students from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) were in the process of exonerating more than twenty innocent individuals off Illinois’ death row. In fact, one of the CWC’s death row clients – Gary Gauger – is profiled in The Exonerated.

As concern increased about innocent people being sentenced to death, a private performance of The Exonerated was staged in December 2002 for then-Governor George Ryan. After watching this play, the Governor was so moved that he came to Northwestern Law's Lincoln Hall to announce that he was commuting the sentences of all death row inmates to life in prison. The risk of executing an innocent, he said, was too great to tolerate. That move set the stage for Governor Pat Quinn to abolish the death penalty in Illinois ten years ago, on March 9, 2011.

To date, a jaw-dropping 185 innocent people have been exonerated off death rows around the country. This production of The Exonerated is intended to once again shine a light on the failures of the death penalty across the country and to expose the inexcusable human toll it exacts on individuals, families, and communities.

Like Illinois, other states should confront the need to abolish the death penalty – and, indeed, some are, with abolition bills being introduced in Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, and on the federal level as well. On March 24, 2021, Virginia became the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty and the first Southern state to do so. What we did in Illinois, we can do everywhere.